History of the San Francisco Comedy Competition

Hundreds of comedians audition each year to compete in the San Francisco Comedy Competition

Only thirty-two are chosen.

In its first year, Robin Williams came in 2nd.

Many talented comedians have since emerged from this annual event to become major stars. It could be argued that the San Francisco Comedy Competition helps turn them into diamonds as it is a true contest that develops its contestants by forcing them to adjust to a variety of audiences – in comedy clubs, colleges, casinos and theaters – while enduring the strain of an extended road trip.

Which begs the question: how many stars have come out of “Last Comic Standing”?

1977 Comedy Competition Champ Dana Carvey went on to “Saturday Night Live”. 1979 Champ Marsha Warfield went on to “Night Court” to star as Roz the bailiff. 1982 finalist Kevin Pollak has achieved a major film career as has 1987 finalist Rob Schneider.

Two first runners up—Ellen DeGeneres in 1985 and Mark Curry in 1989—landed their own TV series. Fame has not always come quickly but eventually as in the case of 1991 finalist Louis C.K. who now claims the ultimate credit: a TV series named after himself.

All of which has resulted in the San Francisco event earning a reputation as an important showcase of young entertainers who will make it.

1993 Finalist Patton Oswalt landed a role on “King of Queens” and became the voice of “Ratatouille”. In reverse order, that year’s winner, Carlos Alazraqui, became the voice of a chihuahua in a famous series of Taco Bell commercials before joining the cast of “Reno 911”.

And 1995 saw the debut of Dane Cook.

As the years went by and the audiences grew, so did the prize money, which attracted more established “gun slingers” who recognized a chance for a quick score. Such was the case in 2008 when Steve White, having already starred in two Spike Lee movies, drove his BMW in from Las Vegas to unveil an act to Northern California that was just too good. Yet still the new faces come forward.

2004 finalist Tommy Savitt is one of the most popular acts currently heard on Sirius Radio. 2006 finalists Mo Mandel and Mike E. Winfield stood in the wings as “Ed Sullivan” veteran Jay Wendell Walker received the grand prize. But now Mo is being seen in a variety of roles on NBC, while Winfield has performed on “David Letterman”.

2008 finalist Brent Weinbach, an avant garde act if ever there was one, recently demonstrated his versatility by portraying a regular guy in a Volkswagen ad.

All in all, though, this writer’s favorite act of the lot may be 2010 champ, Auggie Smith, a stand-up in the tradition of Mort Sahl and George Carlin who has the ability to deflate accepted social mores with hilarious insights that convert audiences to his way of thinking. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?